I am proud to work with the South Mountain YMCA’s camping programs (Bynden Wood Day Camp & Camp Conrad Weser). As the CEO of a small non-profit, I am able to have my hand in a lot of pies. I am fortunate to raise funds to make sure every child can attend camp. I develop staff with an eye on the next step in their careers. I play guitar at campfires. I sing at chapel. I even get to attend camp fairs, local festivals, and other events that we participate in to meet families and promote our programs.
Today I wanted to talk about those promotional opportunities I mentioned. When I have attended camp fairs with 100 other camps and 600 parents, I have noticed a change over the last 10 years. More and more parents are asking about day camp. Fewer and fewer parents “are ready” to send their children to resident camp. In the camp community, we have referred to these protective folks as “helicopter parents.” More on these well-intentioned parents later on in the post.
So, walk with me on this one – you will need to picture this scene in your head. Nice camp directors from all over the country are talking to moms and dads. The exhibition hall is full. Guitars are playing. Kids are running. Camp videos are on strategically placed screens. There is excitement in the air. This is a typical conversation.
Me: “So, what are you hoping your child will get out of her summer camp experience this year?”
Parent: “Well, we just don’t want her too far from home.”
Me: “So you’re looking for a resident camp experience close to home?”
Parent: “Oh, heavens no. Our daughter is only 14. We’re just looking for day camps. She’s far too young to go away over night.”
If this exchange makes you chuckle, go read another blog. If this conversation sounds perfectly reasonable to you, please hang in there with me and keep reading.
When I mentioned helicopter parents earlier, I am referring to moms and dads that are convinced they would be “bad parents” if there child is out of their sight. These parents are involved in every aspect of their children’s lives to an extent that may seem suffocating to the casual observer (and probably the over-protected child). There is a cost to this style of parenting, and it was laid out in an article on MSNBC (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37493795/ns/health-kids_and_parenting/). Let’s sum it up. Young adults that are overly sheltered as children and teens tend to be:
- less open to new ideas
- more vulnerable emotionally
No one wants to see their children grow up into a neurotic, insecure adult. So what is the solution? If you are worried you are a helicopter parent, and you are concerned with the impact it may have on your child, I have a couple of recommendations. Please be open-minded with this one. Take a deep breath.
- Admit to yourself that this is your challenge, not your child’s. Chances are your child’s behavior had not forced you into this style of parenting. Chances are the world is less dangerous than you perceive it. Chances are your child would be fine living away from your for a week. It is for your peace of mind that you want your child near your 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Take small steps. Identify opportunities for your child to express his or her independence. It will be good for both of you. I can’t begin to imagine what that small step may look like for you and your family. You know how close you keep your child, reel him out a little at a time – and start when their toddlers, please. Don’t wait for their teen years. In our house, my wife and I have different comfort levels with our children playing outside. My wife wants to be there with them at every moment, I don’t mind if they take off around the house. In a relationship (spousal or parent/child), you find a comfortable compromise.
- Identify safe, developmentally appropriate, structured opportunities for your child to learn about themselves – on their own. I am an advocate for summer camp. I hope you will choose a sleep-away summer camp experience for your child to establish herself as an individual. I passionately believe that no other experience better prepares a child to 1) lead, 2) be a responsible member of a group being led, 3) be an independent adult, 4) engage in self-directed learning, 4) make new friends, and 5) learn how to identify and manage the many risks this world offers. Let’s talk about developmentally appropriate camp experiences for a moment. If you look at camp literature, you will find that different programs have different age ranges listed. For example, a 4-week canoe trip programs might not start a child until she is 10. A traditional 1-week summer camp may start children when they are 7. They are designed and marketed this way for a reason. I am often asked what age is appropriate for a child to start sleep-away camps. The truth is that every child is different. When your child thinks he or she is ready to go away to camp, they are probably ready to go away to camp.
If you are a protective parent, know it is ok. Camp professionals understand it. You can call and check-in every day. You can write emails. You can send letters. You can remind your child each day how much you care. But don’t worry, I bet they already know it. :-)
We’ll see you at Camp!
To learn more about my camps, Bynden Wood Day Camp and Camp Conrad Weiser, visit us at www.smymca.org or call our offices at 61-670-2267.